10 Articles That Made Us Reconsider The Role Of Business In Society In 2018

What a year for socially responsible business.

✊Brands embraced their power as activists. 📈Investors confirmed the business case for sustainability. ☀️A particularly hot summer made climate change impossible to dismiss. 🥤The plastics crisis hit the mainstream. 📵Silicon Valley came under increased scrutiny post-Cambridge Analytica (yes, that was this year). 👩 The #MeToo movement reverberated across the business world. 🎬“Inclusion riders” became a thing. 👚So did clothing rental. And the list goes on.

To cap off 2018, Team Reconsidered (Jess, Ysabel, Danielle, Kim and Caitlin) pulled together 10 of our favorite reads from the past year — the articles that made us think, made us fear, made us laugh, made us hope and made us reconsider the role of business in this rapidly changing world of ours.

Our Top 10 Links Of 2018 (In No Particular Order)

BlackRock’s Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support — The New York Times

In what’s being called a watershed moment for corporate social responsibility, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink stressed in his annual letter that a company must “not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society”. The letter marks the first time that a major institutional investment firm has made such a strong statement in support of CSR. Not only that, but Fink intends to hold companies accountable by adding staff to monitor businesses’ response. Read Fink’s full letter here.

👉Published in January, this letter set the stage for many of the social responsibility milestones that followed. With the business case for sustainability confirmed by one of the world’s most influential investors, companies had the leeway to set moonshot goals and commit to ambitious action. — Jess

Silicon Valley’s Tax-Avoiding, Job-Killing, Soul-Sucking Machine — Esquire

In this sweeping argument for busting up big tech, thought-provoking questions (“If ice cream were making teens more prone to suicide, would we shrug and seat the CEO of Dreyer’s next to the president?”) combine with hard numbers (Google commands a 92% share of Search, a market worth $92.4 billion) to paint a disturbing picture of unchecked power and wealth concentration. This is a must-read for anyone wondering how we got here, and what we can still do about it.

👉 Technology companies have done an incredible job at branding themselves as renegade little outfits who want to enable the revolution. In reality, they’re just like any other giant corporation: they want to make money. I think this is an issue that doesn’t get talked about enough, and this article does a great job of putting it all into context. — Ysabel

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change — The New York Times

The article is a historical account of the critical decade between 1979 and 1989 when — per author Nathaniel Rich — we could have acted on climate change, but didn’t. In both print and digital, this account is juxtaposed with powerful imagery of climate change’s modern day impacts. Heavy… but important (though not without its critics). When you’re done reading, don’t despair — do something.

👉 Author Nathaniel Rich details how, during the 80s, a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians almost saved our world from global warming — “almost” being the operative word. A painful realization, but an important one. — Caitlin

We Cannot Recycle and Beach Clean Our Way Out of a Plastics Crisis — Huffington Post

Plastics are everywhere — in the soil, in the water, even in our 💩 (yes, it’s true and it’s very disturbing). But change is coming. In this op-ed, Dame Ellen MacArthur introduces a new collaborative initiative to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. To date it has over 250 global signatories, including brands, retailers, NGOs and governments. The initiative comes on the heels of a recent EU ban on single-use plastics like plastic straws, disposable plates and cutlery. It’s pretty awesome to see meaningful action on this complex problem — let’s just hope the implementation is swift.

👉During my travels this year, I was surprised to see a greater awareness of single-use plastics from San Francisco to Sri Lanka to Seoul. In fact, “single-use” was even named Collins’ 2018 Word of the Year! I’m hopeful that this will continue to be a meaningful issue area in the year ahead. — Jess

Will We Soon Be Renting Rather Than Buying Our Clothes? — BBC

Clothing rental is seen as one of the best circular economy ways to keep clothes in use for as long as possible. But will it become mainstream? It’s easy to see how the concept appeals to fashionistas who want to stay ahead of the latest trends, but early adopters also include people who hate to shop and just want one less thing to worry about (um, hi).

👉I think about the intersection of tech, fashion, and sustainability every day. It’s literally part of my job! The continued growth of companies like Rent the Runway and YCloset indicate that the trend of “access over ownership” isn’t fading anytime soon. Consumers are looking for new, convenient and delightful ways to access products they love — and what better than to start with Clueless-like closets! — Danielle

Meet the Teenagers Leading a Climate Change Movement — The New York Times

Zero Hour is an environmentally focused, creatively minded and technologically savvy coalition against climate change. It’s also run entirely by teenagers. The group caught the nation’s attention with July’s Youth Climate March, but they’re only getting started. “The march is a launch,” said 16-year-old founder Jamie Margolin. “It isn’t, ‘That’s it, we’re done.’”

👉The teen activists behind climate change movement Zero Hour convey a powerful reminder that it is unfortunately the decisions made now that will impact the future liveability of our world. It is inspiring to read about the individuals behind the organization, who — without any guidance or experience — are fighting the status quo and taking matters into their own hands. — Caitlin

Oysters on the Half Shell Are Actually Saving New York’s Eroding Harbor — NPR

As climate change causes storms to increase in intensity, coastal cities are being forced to protect their shores. New York City is pioneering a brilliant solution: living breakwaters made from leftover oyster shells, which protect harbors while also filtering water and contributing to a healthier ecosystem. The shells are sourced from local restaurants, then populated with new oysters hatched by students in a public high school’s aquaculture program — a unique model that brings together non-profits, businesses, schools and local government.

👉This project just ticks so many of my boxes: food waste, civic engagement and fascinating science. It’s very exciting to me when I read about a climate solution that harnesses the power of the natural world and this one does that brilliantly. — Ysabel

Beware Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World — The New York Times

In this op-ed, author Anand Giridharadas uses the term “fake change” to describe most corporate responsibility and non-profit efforts out there. Sure, it’s technically change, he argues. But it’s change “the powerful can tolerate” because it doesn’t topple existing power structures. There’s truth in what he says, and it’s certainly a wake-up call to not become complacent with incremental efforts. But change is messy and complex. Some believe the only way forward is to dismantle the system, while others choose to work within it to effect what change they can. There’s room for both approaches to exist. In fact, I’d argue that it’s necessary. Business as a force for good isn’t the only answer, but has to be a part of the solution.

👉This article — and Giridharadas’ book “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” — initiated vital dialogue about the dark side of social impact, the glorification of social entrepreneurs and the need to expand corporate responsibility expectations to include a company’s lobbying, tax and public policy practices. — Jess

The Science of What Makes People Care — Stanford Social Innovation Review

Simply put, this article is everything. In fact, these insights are why Reconsidered got started in the first place — to help organizations make not just a business case for prioritizing sustainability and social impact, but also an emotional case driven by what we know about behavior change. In the article, Ann Christiano and Annie Niemand from the University of Florida outline five social science-backed principles to help you communicate your cause more effectively. And they don’t sugarcoat things, either. The article addresses head-on some of the most uncomfortable truths about human psychology, like the fact that people don’t want to hear things that will make them feel bad or challenge their beliefs. It offers actionable insights to craft messaging that works with people’s natural tendencies, not against them. Amen to that. 👏

👉An interesting read for anyone looking to engage others to get behind a cause, create social change, or in general, communicate more effectively. This article would be particularly helpful for all my fellow fundraisers out there working on their next campaign appeal! #donatenow — Kim

25 Years Ago I Coined the Phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” Here’s Why It’s Time to Rethink It — Harvard Business Review

John Elkington is issuing a recall on the concept of the triple bottom line — a sustainability framework he developed that examines a company’s social, environment, and economic impact. He argues that it has become diluted and is most often used to enable a “trade-off” mindset. The term could be saved, he says, but only if companies embrace radical systems change instead of incremental efforts.

👉Let’s hope that 2019 is the year we reclaim the true essence of the triple bottom line — or find a powerful concept to replace it. — Jess

This list was originally shared in the Reconsidered newsletter — a bi-weekly newsletter for people passionate about using business for good. Every other week, we send 5 thought-provoking links, 30+ hot jobs, interviews with people making waves and free resources to help you become a better agent of positive change. Join 2,100+ Reconsidered newsletter subscribers today.